Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Squid and the Whale

I loved this movie, one of two coming of age movies (the other is C.R.A.Z.Y.) I have seen recently. The title refers to something the central character, Frank (Owen Kline) worried about every time he went to the aquarium as a child: the whale and the squid always seemed to be fighting and the whale would always win. The same dynamic applied in his home life: Dad (Jeff Daniels) is one of those English Profs who has been at it a bit too long, so that he's always "right" and rather insufferable with it. He's had a few successes as a writer in the past, and hasn't quite caught up with the fact that he's no longer relevant. So, he gets to be nicely dismissive of such minor works as A Tale of Two Cities ("one of Dickens' lesser works") and those condemned to teach it in high school, as well as lording it over his family. There is an interesting comment on the IMDB about Dad - who is based on a real person, the father of the director (Noah Baumbach): the claim is made that the father is so self involved that he'd see the film as homage, rather than attack.

Frank buys into his Dad completely: he can do no wrong. So, there is no conflict in his mind when his parents split up, this split is possibly because Mum (Laura Linney) is becoming a success in her own right as a writer. Frank wants to stay with Dad and Mum is the home wrecker. It really is hard to know one's own father, and this film is Frank's getting a more accurate take on who his father is. Ironically, it is when father and son are at their closest - both falling for the same girl, Lili (our very own Anna Paquin) - that this process finally takes hold.

The other family member, younger brother Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) has trouble from day one as a result of the split, as he doesnt have such a dogmatic view of things. Whenever he is with one parent, he misses the other. It doesn't help all that much when it turns out that his mother has started something with his tennis coach, so poor young Walt is left to feel pretty much on his own.

The one thing that was a bit strange about the movie was Frank's entry in a school talent quest: I'm not sure exactly when the movie was set, but given that he had a copy of the Pink Floyd record, it seemed just a little bit unbelievable that he could get away with not only playing Hey You, but getting the school prize for writing it. Shades of his father, however, in trying it on!


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